If you follow me, chances are you work in some sort of communication discipline and are more aware of what social media does to us. Studies abound about the psychological effects of the algorithms and Dark UX1 patterns that keep us hooked.

You’re also aware of the effect that some social media companies have on society. Sometimes good, sometimes terrible like skewing an election or even leading to genocide2.

Alright, we know all of this. And we are in a position to explain these and other issues with the authority of someone who studied communication, sociology, philosophy, and other disciplines that tie into social media in some way.

You’re probably keen on I am going with this. It’s about what else we should be doing. It’s not enough to talk and clarify these issues to students and clients, we have to show them the alternatives that overall contribute to a better society.

A while back, #Substack was under fire for not taking away the monetization features of Nazi publications on their platform. Before that, their newsletter model was going so well that we at the #Lisbon Collective included it in the plan for one of our clients.

We killed that idea before reaching the client.

It was an uncertain time when we didn’t know if Substack would push through and in the end, it came down to the question: What Web do we want to help build? It’s not one where Nazi hate speech gets to make money and push their agenda forward.

Since this episode, I became a bit more aware of how my little actions were also contributing to a nefarious Web. Every click on a like button, every hint to an algorithm, every content shared. Instead of asking myself “Does this creator deserve a like” I’ve been rephrasing to “Do I want the algorithm to keep showing me more content like this?”

This is now extending to the content I produce and where I make it available. As soon as Twitter was taken over by @Elon Musk I started posting less and today don’t use it at all. A friend of mine had quite a community on Twitter, built over time and dedication to a communication model they believed in. Their account is now gone. For the topic and conversations that the community formed around, Twitter stopped being a place for that community to thrive. The platform no longer reflected the #Values Systems and Culture that my friend supported. The account is now closed.

The same thing will probably happen to Instagram one day. Remember when it was an app for retro-style photos? Cory Doctorow refers to this process of decay as enshittification.

As Communication Professionals we need to take accountability for the communication instruments we build and the platforms we build them on. We are the ones advising clients, they come to us for sustainable results and not to be at the mercy of the whims and pitfalls of social media. And I realise that most of the time we have to dismantle their fascination for the promise of quick results from a social media campaign.

Social Media channels can be a part of an overall strategy, but their goal should be to amplify the message and not be the single point of failure for our plan.

Jeff Jarvis, The Web We Weave

Jeff Jarvis is a journalism professor at CUNY’s Newmark School, and co-host of This Week in Google on the TWiT network. His new book comes out later this year and is called The Web We Weave: Why We Must Reclaim the Internet from Moguls, Misanthropes, and Moral Panic.

I’m sure his book makes a better case for us to take responsibility for putting our effort and energy towards a better version of the web. I just don’t think we should wait for October to start reflecting on our choices about how we use Social Media and how we advise our clients.

Update 2024-03-08T9:40

@Richard Bailey added to this post in the This Week in PR Newsletter. He takes us back to 2008, when we met in Brussels, and when the PR community shared an optimism for what Social Media would bring.

This was during #Euroblog.

  1. Design patterns that lead the user to a specific action in a way that isn’t ethical because it benefits the company through deception. https://www.uxdesigninstitute.com/blog/what-are-dark-patterns-in-ux/ ↩︎

  2. Facebook: Last Week Tonight with John Oliver (HBO) ↩︎